Balloon benefits

Though laser seemed to be technically more advanced as a tool for removing heart blockages, a recent study shows that it cannot be trusted completely

Published: Friday 15 March 1996

Blowing out blocks (Credit: Arvind Yadav / CSE)DUTCH researchers recently came to conclude that balloon angioplasty and not laser, is more effective in removing blockages in blood vessels connected to the heart. The finding came after a three-year study comparing the two methods by Dutch researchers. Meanwhile, another study found that the technique could also help combat angina, a severe chest pain.

Angioplasty is an operation used to unclog a blocked blood vessel of the heart. Though balloon angioplasty has been in use since the '70s, a laser was put to use to reopen a channel rather recently. Specialists reported that the use of a powerful form of gas laser, called the excimer laser, gave excellent results. This led the Dutch researchers, led by Yolande Appelman of the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, to compare balloon and laser angioplasty for the first time in 1991.

Involving 308 patients, the study concluded in 1993 at hospitals in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Although the number of subjects was decidedly the smallest, it could still give statistically significant results. The study was designed to allow patients in the laser group to receive the balloon treatment if the laser one was not effective by itself.

It was found that 98 per cent of patients in the laser group had to be given additional balloon angioplasty after special x-rays called angiographs revealed that the laser treatment had not satisfactorily widened the blockage. On re-examining the patients - six months after the balloon angioplasty - researchers found that the success rate for using both the techniques was 80 per cent.

"The Dutch study, confirms the already large disappointment with the laser for its original intended use in angioplasty based on the expectations, outlays and the number of people who tried it," says Frederick Feit, an expert on angioplasty at the New York University Medical Centre. Meanwhile, the Dutch scientists are working to modify the laser technique to improve its success rate.

in a study conducted by a team of scientists led by Peter Berger at the Mayo Clinic in the USA, balloon angioplasty was found to combat angina in addition to clearing up the fat debris in the clogged heart vessels. The method is reported to be safe and effective in bringing relief to patients.

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